Northern California Science Writers Association

Blue Oak Ranch Reserve campout

  • Saturday, June 04, 2022
  • 12:00 PM
  • Sunday, June 05, 2022
  • 12:00 PM
  • Blue Oak Ranch Reserve, San Jose
  • 15

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Come camping with NCSWA to the UC Natural Reserve System’s Blue Oak Ranch Reserve. Located halfway up Mount Hamilton in eastern San Jose, the reserve sprawls across more than 3,000 acres of the western slope of the Diablo Range.


Since joining the NRS under the management of UC Berkeley in 2007, the reserve has hosted research ranging from rattlesnake populations to watershed hydrology to the remote sensing of vegetation. 


During our stay, we’ll meet reserve director Zac Harlow, who will provide an overview of the reserve site and discuss challenges such as the 2020 SCU Lightning Complex Fire, which burned half the reserve, plus ongoing vegetation management programs designed to reduce fuels while encouraging native species. We’ll also overlap with researchers studying how landscape use changes are affecting rates of amphibian malformations caused by a native flatworm parasite.


There are plenty of opportunities to hike and enjoy local wildlife. The reserve’s extensive hiking trails wind through oak savanna and chaparral. Reserve lands also offer terrific views of both UC Lick Observatory at the mountain’s summit as well as San Jose, located just downslope. Multiple historic stock ponds also harbor California tiger salamanders and red-legged frogs. Those who dare can even commandeer a kayak to ply the reserve’s largest pond. Early birds will enjoy a dawn chorus unparalleled in most of the rest of the Bay Area.


Accommodations come in three flavors. The two dorm cabins have two rooms, each of which has a total of two bunks equipped with mattresses, bringing the total number of dorm cabin beds to 16. Dorm cabin rooms, which have heaters, share a bathroom with a shower. The seasonal cabins have one side open to the outdoors, with a curtain to draw for privacy. Seasonal cabins come with lights and USB charging ports. Seven of the seasonal cabins have two bunks and sleep four; one seasonal cabin is handicapped accessible and sleeps two. Those who wish to use their tents can use the wooden tent platforms or pitch their shelters on the ground. 


Communal amenities include a full kitchen with commercial-sized stove and refrigerators; a raft of outdoor picnic tables, some of which are located under the shelter of the barn eaves; showers; and flush toilets. A large meeting area inside the barn is outfitted with tables, chairs, and a wood-fired stove if you get chilly. 


Additional considerations

The nearly four-mile-long entrance road to the reserve is unpaved, but in good enough condition for a Prius or similar auto to navigate with care.

We are responsible for cleaning up after ourselves before we leave. Visitors are asked to sweep their rooms and the kitchen, wash their dishes, empty the trash, pack up all food they brought, and follow any other cleaning instructions posted by reserve staff before departing.

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